Virginia Primary Preview and The Progressive Case Against Jim Costa
We’ve got a double dose for you today. First up is a guide to the primaries happening for Virginia, which was sent to everyone following the newlsetter. For our paying subscribers we’ve also include this week’s Case Against.
A very short 2019 primary season is upon us, so we’re publishing our first primary preview, which will be a more regular thing once next year’s primaries begin (hopefully next time we get this out before polls open). Virginia is currently voting on a slew of important state legislative and local primaries. We’ll walk through the state’s most important Democratic primaries, including every one in a legislative seat that a Democrat could plausibly win. Polls are open until 7 PM, and for any of our Virginia readers: you need an approved photo ID to vote. (If you forget to bring it with you, you can still cast a provisional ballot)
SD-06 (Lynwood Lewis, D)
Clinton 53.4% Trump 41.3%
Lynwood Lewis vs. Willie Randall
Lewis is the incumbent, and he should win easily. Randall is a perennial candidate who’s lost three state House races so far for HD-100, a swing district contained within SD-06.
Clinton 47.1% Trump 46.9%
Del. Cheryl Turpin vs. Kim Howard vs. Susan Hippen
Cheryl Turpin was Democrats’ toughest pickup in 2017; after narrowly losing a January 2017 special election in a Trump district, she won the November rematch, becoming the only Democrat in Virginia’s legislature to represent a district that voted for Trump. Her district has since been altered by a racial gerrymandering lawsuit, and the new version narrowly went for Clinton. After incumbent Republican state Sen. Frank Wagner announced his retirement, Turpin threw her hat in the ring at the last minute. If there was a favorite in this race, it would probably be her, but Kim Howard, a 23-year Navy veteran and the near-presumptive nominee before Turpin's entry, could easily win as well. Hippen has a good profile as a progressive black veteran, but her campaign never really got the resources or institutional support it needed.
The biggest difference between Howard and Turpin so far hasn’t been policy, it’s been Ralph Northam. During the Northam blackface scandal, Turpin called for his resignation (and good on her). Kim Howard, last month, decided to make an issue of that position and said, among other things, “It is disappointing that Cheryl Turpin has not rescinded her demand that the governor resign despite the progress we’ve made and the work that still needs to be done.”
SD-10 (Glen Sturtevant, R)
Clinton 53.4% Trump 40.3%
Ghazala Hashmi vs. Eileen Bedell vs. Zachary Brown
Glen Sturtevant is clearly on borrowed time in this blue district, which stretches from downtown Richmond to rural Powhatan County. It was intended as a Republican gerrymander, but the Richmond area lurched left, and SD-10 became a very difficult district for a Republican to win in the Trump era. Ghazala Hashmi, a local professor and community college administrator, and Eileen Bedell, an attorney who was the 2016 nominee for Virginia’s 7th congressional district, are probably the only candidates in contention. Zachary Brown, a 23-year-old law student, trails significantly in fundraising and institutional support.
Hashmi has run to the left in this campaign, openly labeling herself progressive and making the case that voters in this district don’t need to care about electability, a tactic rarely used in campaigns to flip a seat, and one that she happens to be right about. (Especially in a district Hillary Clinton won by 13 points.) She’s worked to unite Virginia’s growing Asian political community behind her and has picked up the endorsements of local progressive politicians and labor groups in her campaign.
Bedell has the support of Blue Dog Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, and her own Congressional campaign has come back to haunt her. She admitted then that she voted for far-right nutjob Dave Brat in the 2014 Republican primary in order to knock off more mainstream Eric Cantor (for some larger purpose, presumably), expressed a reticence to raise taxes, supported a minimum wage increase...to $10 an hour, and made some troubling noncommittal statements about immigration, such as this one newspaper quote: “‘Illegal immigration is one issue, fighting terrorism is another,’ Bedell said. ‘I refuse to be afraid in my own home.’”
It’s difficult to think of an argument for Bedell (or Brown) over Hashmi.
SD-11 (Amanda Chase, R)
Trump 52.9% Clinton 42.2%
Amanda Pohl vs. Wayne Powell
This is a red seat south of Richmond, but it might be in play because of a weak Republican incumbent. Amanda Chase is best known for cursing out a cop who wouldn’t let her park in a restricted area, telling them, “You don’t know equality of women’s rights.” (Chase’s car was blocking several buses as she went on her rant.) Beyond that, Chase is known for carrying a gun on the floor of the Virginia Senatebecause activists were mean to a colleague of hers once.
Wayne Powell, an Army veteran and the 2012 nominee against Eric Cantor, is the leader in fundraising, while Amanda Pohl, a social worker, has more endorsements from progressive groups. Beyond that, it’s hard to figure out a clear ideological divide in this primary, because both candidates are pretty vague about their issue positions. (Not unusual in a seat this red.) Both seem to have what it takes to give Amanda Chase a real fight.
SD-12 (Siobhan Dunnavant, R)
Clinton 48.3% Trump 45.2%
Veena Lothe vs. Debra Rodman
This wealthy suburban district north of Richmond is occupied by Siobhan Dunnavant, a member of the Stolle family, a Virginia Republican dynasty based in the Hampton Roads area. (Siobhan, unlike her family, left for Richmond.) Dunnavant’s race may be the most hotly contested Senate race in the state, with Glen Sturtevant likely to lose reelection and SD-07 without an incumbent.
Debra Rodman, like Cheryl Turpin, defeated an incumbent Republican delegate in 2017; like Turpin, she’s running for a Clinton-voting, Republican-held state Senate seat. However, her primary opposition is even tougher than Turpin’s. Civil rights lawyer Veena Lothe is running, and she’s a strong fundraiser (although Rodman still has more money, in part due to funds left over from her 2017 campaign.) Lothe seems to be running to Rodman’s left, but the differences aren’t that stark. Rodman, a sitting delegate with a lot of institutional support, is favored, but a Lothe win wouldn’t be too surprising.
SD-16 (Rosalyn Dance, D)
Clinton 68.8% Trump 27.7%
Rosalyn Dance vs. Joe Morrissey
State Sen. Rosalyn Dance faces a challenge from disgusting, disgraced ex-Delegate Joe Morrissey, a disbarred attorney who infamously dated his 17-year-old receptionist, then married her once she was an adult. Jesus Christ people please vote for Dance.
SD-17 (Bryce Reeves, R)
Trump 49.7% Clinton 45.1%
Amy Laufer vs. Ben Hixon
Former Charlottesville school board member Amy Laufer, who founded Virginia’s List (the Virginia version of EMILY’s List) is a heavy favorite over self-identified “progressive libertarian” computer programmer Ben Hixon. This district is a gerrymandered monstrosity stretching from Charlottesville to the outskirts of the Washington metro area, but it’s not that red--a strong candidate can win it. Laufer, not Hixon, looks like that candidate.
SD-28 (Richard Stuart, R)
Trump 54.2% Clinton 40.5%
Qasim Rashid vs. Laura Sellers
This district is teetering on the edge of Democratic unwinnability, but we have landed a fairly impressive candidate in Qasim Rashid, a human rights advocate and author, who has used his renown to create one of the state’s most impressive small donor operations in the state. His opponent, Laura Sellers, has a barely functioning websiteand almost no money. Rashid will likely take this primary easily.
SD-31 (Barbara Favola, D)
Clinton 69.2% Trump 24.9%
Barbara Favola vs Nicole Merlene
This thin strip of Northern Virginia, from urban Arlington to wealthy, suburban Loudoun County is represented by Senator Barbara Favola is a bland, milquetoast Democrat who is also a registered lobbyist in Richmond. She gets paid to lobby her own colleagues! Thankfully, she faces a primary challenge from local activist Nicole Merlene. Merlene is a young activist running on a platform of ethics reform, renters’ rights, and increased transit funding. Merlene’s campaign has faced the issues most upstart campaigns face, with limited fundraising and near-complete institutional support of Favola, although Merlene does have the support of a few local Democratic Party officials.
It’s hard to get a handle on where this race sits. The incumbent is generally favored in a case like this, but Favola hasn’t acted like she feels safe. She’s engaged in personal attacks against Merlene, calling her a “tantalizing” “new flavor you can look at,” and dumped $300,000 into the race. She seems scared! But Favola is known for not taking primaries for granted. Back in 2011, when she was running in a primary in which she was a clear favorite, and that she would go on to win 65-35, she still felt the need to run a “poll” calling her opponent a Republican. (In that same campaign, her opponent pointed out that Favola had also taken tens of thousands of dollars from a developer with business before the Arlington County Board, of which she was a member.)
SD-33 (Jennifer Boysko, D)
Clinton 63.1% Trump 31.1%
Jennifer Boysko vs Sharafat Hussain
Jennifer Boysko won this seat earlier this year in a special election to replace newly elected Representative Jennifer Wexton. Winning a rock bottom turnout primary in January and having only a few months of seniority might make for a vulnerable incumbent, but challenger Sharafat Hussain, who already faced her in the special election primary and took a whopping 5.6%, is not likely to take advantage of that potential vulnerability.
SD-35 (Richard “Dick” Saslaw, D)
Clinton 72.8% Trump 21.9%
Dick Saslaw vs. Yasmine Taeb (vs. Karen Torrent we guess)
So. This is the big one. Dick Saslaw is the absolute fucking worst, Nick wrote a whole thing about it for our subscribers (and it’s now available to everyone on the Data for Progress website.) He is, without any embellishment, the worst Democrat in the Senate, and also somehow the leader of the Senate Democrats. This election means more than one senate district; it could change the highest echelon of leadership. Just a few days ago, some stunning but entirely in character news broke about his campaign. They’ve been accepting support from a pro-war astroturf group run by the MEK, an Iranian opposition group formerly designated as a terrorist group by the State Department.
In true Saslaw fashion, his campaign chose to tout the endorsement of an “Iranian” organization against his Iranian opponent, and to deflect previous criticism of his record regarding Muslims. Amazingly, the campaign accused the Taeb team of the being intolerant for pointing out that the group was an Albania-based astroturf with no actual presence in the US. The biggest Twitter account run by the astroturfing operation was that of a “writer” named Heshmat Alavi, who had been published in American outlets and cited by the Trump White House (despite not being a real person.) Heshmat Alavi was also critical of Yasmine Taeb, probably because having an Iranian-American elected official like Taeb who would strongly oppose war with Iran would make it slightly harder for John Bolton to invade Iran.
The race is close, and the Saslaw campaign has put nearly a million dollars into the primary as of May 30. A state senate campaign has gone on DC television. Taeb meanwhile has been championed by nearly every progressive group in the state, including the Metro DC DSA, Our Revolution, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, and - oh yeah - us. Opinion Haver has been to a few of Taeb’s events and he can confirm they’re absolutely hopping by the standards of a state senate campaign. Here’s hoping she shocks Virginia tonight.
HD-26 (Tony Wilt, R)
Trump 50.6% Clinton 42.7%
Cathy Copeland vs. Brent Finnegan
This district is based in Harrisonburg, home to James Madison University, but it’s got just enough red, rural territory that it gave Trump a small majority. 2017 nominee Brent Finnegan, a member of the Harrisonburg Planning Commission, is running on a progressive platform that includes repealing Virginia’s anti-union “right-to-work” law, legalizing marijuana, and Medicare for All. JMU professor Cathy Copeland is running on a more moderate platform. They’re about even in fundraising, with a slight edge for Finnegan. It’s hard to tell who’s favored here.
HD-38 (Kaye Kory, D)
Clinton 70.9% Trump 24.5%
Kaye Kory vs. Andres Jimenez
Incumbent Delegate Kaye Kory looks to be in serious trouble thanks to a strong challenge from local activist Andres Jimenez, who has worked in environmental and housing policy for years, most recently as director of government affairs for the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. Kory is a very quiet, behind-the-scenes politician, and her policy stances are nothing special. That’s attracted a large number of unions and progressive groups to Jimenez’s campaign; the union endorsements are especially noteworthy, because unions don’t often cross incumbents. This race has shades of the Capuano-Pressley primary from last year. There’s nothing wrong with Kory, but Jimenez still seems like a better choice.
HD-49 (Alfonso Lopez, D)
Clinton 79.6% Trump 15.1%
Alfonso Lopez vs. JD Spain
Virginia House Democratic Whip Alfonso Lopez has a progressive voting record and set of policy stances, but there’s a catch: he profited from an ICE detention center. Local NAACP president JD Spain stepped up to challenge him, but his campaign seems to have fizzled, getting little press attention. Regardless, profiting from America’s horrifically cruel immigrant concentration camps is unacceptable, which is why we’d vote Spain even if it looks like he can’t win.
HD-50 (Lee Carter, D)
Clinton 54.2% Trump 40.1%
Lee Carter vs. Mark Wolfe
Lee Carter shocked Virginia when he won in 2017; he was an open socialist who had little money and a poor relationship with state Democrats. (Also, he took down the House Republican Whip.) We stan. But of course he wasn’t left alone after breaking with party orthodoxy, and more importantly party leadership. Mark Wolfe was an elected Republican until 2016, and jumped into the Democratic primary with the hope of getting more conservative Democrats. (As well as Republicans, because Virginia has no party registration; Republicans can vote in Democratic primaries and vice versa.) Some members of the Manassas Dems briefly forgot they weren’t supposed to be supporting Wolfe as an official party.
We’re team Lee Carter 2019, obviously.
HD-52 (Luke Torian, D)
Clinton 72.6% Trump 23.0%
Luke Torian vs. Kevin Wade
Kevin Wade was challenging Luke Torian from the left in this Prince William County district. Then he shared a racist Facebook post, so, yikes? Kevin Wade’s campaign pretty much died that day, but he’s limped on to the primary.
Clinton 74.8% Trump 18.6%
Sally Hudson vs. Kathy Galvin
Sally Hudson, a young economist at the University of Virginia, was mounting a strong primary challenge to House Democratic Leader David Toscano before he suddenly retired; for a while, that left her as the only candidate in this district. Charlottesville City Councilor Kathy Galvin got in the race before the filing deadline, and she’s AWFUL. She wants to serve on a committee that doesn’t exist, she’s blamed black parents for structural inequities in Charlottesville schools, and she’s opposed every affordable housing initiative to ever come before her.
Hudson’s great, though. This is a closely fought race that could realistically go either way. While Hudson’s raised about twice as much as Galvin, Galvin also got in the race later. They’ve both picked up a handful of local endorsements, but Hudson also has the backing of national progressive organizations such as the Working Families Party.
Trump 49.9% Clinton 45.9%
Lindsey Dougherty vs. Tavorise Marks
Republican Delegate Riley Ingram is retiring, and a well-funded Republican candidate, Carrie Coyner, has stepped up to replace him. Facing off for the right to face Coyner in November are Lindsey Dougherty, a budget analyst for Chesterfield County, and Tavorise Marks, a local veteran and NAACP official. Marks is running to the left of Dougherty, although neither is particularly moderate. Neither has raised much money, putting the eventual winning way behind Coyner, which is concerning. Whoever wins the primary will need all the help they can get to flip this light-red district south of Richmond.
Clinton 60.1% Trump 34.5%
Hassan Ahmad vs. Suhas Subramanyam vs. Akshay Bhamidipati vs. Johanna Gusman
Four Democrats are vying to replace incumbent John Bell, who is unchallenged for the Democratic nomination for an open Republican-held, Clinton-won state senate seat. Those Democrats are attorney Hassan Ahmad, Obama administration official Suhas Subramanyam, Johns Hopkins student Akshay Bhamidipati, and human rights lawyer Johanna Gusman. Based on fundraising, all four of them are viable (including the college student, somehow.)
Ahmad seems to be the most moderate of the four, and Gusman, who is running on a platform including a Green New Deal, right-to-work repeal, and free public college, is clearly the furthest left, but her late entry and considerably smaller fundraising raise questions about whether she’s been able to fully introduce herself to the district. Of course, she’s the only woman in a field of four, which does have its advantages. One of those advantages showed up a couple weeks ago in the form of aid from EMILY’s List. EMILY’s isn’t known for going out on too big a limb, and neither are they known for endorsing candidates who like to use “Abolish the police” as a conversation starter.
It’s a four way primary, with a lot of different interests at play, and beyond thinking Bhamidipati is probably the least likely to win, we don’t think anyone has a firm idea of what’s going to happen here.
HD-88 (Mark Cole, R)
Trump 54.0% Clinton 40.5%
Kecia Evans vs. Jess Foster
Juvenile immigration defense lawyer Jess Foster looks likely to beat Stafford County Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kecia Evans, having outraised her more than 12 to 1 and amassed an imposing list of endorsements. This district will be tough, but if something strange happens or we have a really good electoral environment in November, we could win it.
Clinton 49.7% Trump 45.1%
Michael Wade vs. Martha Mugler
Faced with a redrawn district, Republican incumbent Gordon Helsel retired rather than try to win a fair election. 2017 nominee Michael Wade and Hampton School Board member Martha Mugler are running for the Democratic nomination, and Wade is vastly preferable to Mugler. He’s a DSA member with union support and a good platform, while she’s propped up by Ralph Northam’s blackface PR PAC and doesn’t seem to actually have any opinions beyond thinking abortion rights and union rights are overrated. As you might have guessed from our earlier endorsement of him, we’re really pulling for Michael Wade.
HD-96 (Brenda Pogge, R)
Trump 52.9% Clinton 41.6%
Mark Downey vs. Rebecca Leser vs. Chris Mayfield
Local doctor Mark Downey, veteran Chris Mayfield, and York County-Poquoson Democratic Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Leser make up the field in the last legislative primary we’ll look at. It’s probably a contest between Downey, who’s raised the most money by far, and Leser, who will have plenty of connections thanks to her role as a local Democratic chairperson.
Arlington and Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorneys (aka prosecutors/district attorneys)
In Arlington and Fairfax counties, punitive tough-on-crime prosecutors face challenges from reformers who want to radically transform the criminal justice system. In Arlington, Theo Stamos faces reformer Parisa Dehghani-Tafti; in Fairfax, Ray Morrogh faces reformer Steve Descano. Stamos prosecuted a teenager for saying “oink oink” to a cop; Morrogh had a man struck from a jury solely because his wife was on the Democratic National Committee. Both Descano and Dehghani-Tafti have raised a good amount of money, earned some attention, and attracted outside support. Their campaigns have the potential to reshape the criminal justice system for well over 1 million residents of Northern Virginia.
There’s not even really a choice for anyone interested in criminal justice reform. If you’re in Fairfax County or Fairfax City, vote for Steve Descano. If you’re in Arlington or Falls Church, vote for Parisa Dehghani-Tafti.
Fairfax County Supervisor Chairperson (Open)
Clinton 64.4% Trump 28.6%
Tim Chapman vs Ryan McElveen vs. Jeffrey McKay vs. Alicia Plerhoples
The Fairfax County Supervisor is an at-large County Supervisor position generally regarded as more important than the district offices even if it doesn’t come with more explicit power (besides the ability to preside over meetings), and is also a stepping stone to higher office. Two of the last four Chairpersons, Gerry Connolly and Tom Davis, have been elected to Congress, which makes sense considering the county is larger than a Congressional district.
This year’s open election features four candidates, but it’s long since become clear the race is really between Tim Chapman and Jeffery McKay, which is an enormous shame, because Georgetown law professor and staunch progressive Alicia Plerhoples is by far and away the candidate we’d like to see win. But the race has turned into a nasty and expensive match between Jeffery McKay, current Supervisor from the Lee district, and wealthy real estate developer Tim Chapman, who’s been freely spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance his campaign. McKay is, you know, fine. Chapman, however, is a huge danger. He’s a donor to wingnut 2013 Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, as if “wealthy real estate developer” wasn’t enough to sour you on him already, and is the kind of guy who says things like “If things are going to move forward in this county, we need to push past any establishment purity test.” May we remind you the establishment in Fairfax County is guys like Dick Saslaw.
We’re getting strong PA-07 vibes from this race. The 2018 PA-07 primary was a 3 way contest. There was one candidate who was an odious conservative most Democrats agreed needed to be beaten (Morganelli), but they failed to line up behind one candidate to beat him. More mainstream liberals got behind one candidate (Wild) and more progressive groups got behind another (Edwards), with some other candidates kind of existing. In the end the race was a close-ish 3 way finish with Wild finishing first, and then Morganelli, and then Edwards. There are differences here of course - open vs closed primaries, for one, but the dynamic is pretty similar, and we’re thinking the result might be similar as well.
The Progressive Case Against Jim Costa
By Opinion Haver
Jim Costa didn’t even want to run for Congress. He entered the State Assembly in the 1970s, and then the State Senate in the 1990s, while periodically batting away national Democratic attempts to seek federal office. Then in 1998, term limits passed, and he was forced out by them in 2002. He wound up running for Congress just two years later. Even upon entering Congress he wasn’t enthralled. Most politicians don’t start out their tenure by saying “I certainly didn’t come here in some Pollyanna mode,” in their first major interview. Costa’s the type of politician whose disinterest in any large-scale goals, hyper-focus on local issues, disregard of liberal priorities, and increasing apathy towards campaigning would let him glide by indefinitely in a state legislative seat. But he’s in Congress and it’s pretty clear he’s not up to that low bar.
Costa is a Blue Dog, and while Blue Dogs vary in how much they suck on most issues, it’s practically a given you need to be terrible on money issues to join. Sure enough, Costa supports the insane Balanced Budget Amendment, an idea that would entirely tank the federal government’s ability to function. He’s waged a consistent war on the estate tax, but thinks Social Security benefits should be taxed. You better believe he voted for the infamous 2005 bankruptcy reform bill. He supported Bush-era tort reform, which you may know as the reason corporations stopped being able to be held accountable civilly, as well as criminally or by the government. That’s the basics. Now let’s dig into what makes him stand out from the Blue Dog pack.
Costa’s record on criminal justice is particularly egregious. He’s been a consistent fan of the prison-industrial complex, fighting for more prisons and harsher conditions for those serving. He supports the death penalty to this day and has voted to expand its usage recently. That bill I just linked, by the way, is the Thin Blue Line Act of 2017, which you may know better as the federal Blue Lives Matter bill. Costa also has the distinction of writing California’s Three Strikes Law.
In a truly astounding bout of hypocrisy, Costa had already had a run-in with the law before writing that law, getting arrested in 1986 for soliciting a prostitute who turned out to be an undercover police officer. Considering that the then-34 year old Costa was trying to buy a threesome with himself and 19 year old prostitute that was also in the car with him, it’s hard to imagine someone who wasn’t a lawmaker getting away with only one charge in that situation. Then, while he pushing for his Three Strikes Law, police discovered marijuana and drug paraphernalia in his apartment. Costa’s explanation for the police’s discovery was that people had broken into his apartment and left the illegal items there, possibly because, as he speculated “someone was trying to set me up politically.” The police opted not to charge the connected politician who was set to become a state senator, and Costa went back to the legislature to fight for his Three Strikes Law.
To be clear, I’m making no judgement about Costa’s infractions here. Weed is fun and sex work at the very least shouldn’t be illegal. What I am pointing out is how Costa did his best to bring the hammer down on criminals, even as he had had the experience to know he’d be included in that category if not for the position of privilege he had. Jim Costa would continue to oppose marijuana legalization well into the 2000s, only softening in the 2010s, far after public opinion had already titled far in favor. He still has yet to support ending federal criminalization.
Costa’s time in the legislature wasn’t just spent increasing the size of the prison-industrial complex. He had two other main interests. The first was getting water rights to Southern California farms. Water rights in California are a mess, far more about regional affiliations than ideology, and flat-out boring if you don’t live in the state. I don’t, so I’ll just point out that he was often at odds with environmentalists during those fights. His other big hobby was rent control. Or more specifically, doing his best to stamp it out from the state.
Starting in 1983, Costa would dutifully introduce a bill every year to ban localities from instituting all but the weakest forms of rent control. Costa was an extremist in his opposition to rent control. For instance, the first iteration of his bill excluded mobile homes in its grandfather clause. Pretty much the entire Assembly agreed mobile homes should be included. Current Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa was one of the voices in support of adding them. Costa fought giving even that inch to rent control, and was outvoted overwhelmingly. Costa was rewarded richly by the real estate developers for his efforts. A change of leadership in the Senate and Republican controlled Assembly allowed his bill to pass in 1995 and get signed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson. It exists to this day and continues to be the ire of rent control activists.
Since making it to Congress, Costa has sported a truly awful environmental record. He record wasn’t good exactly in the state legislature. Being a Big Ag mouthpiece will lead you to do things like write bills making it easier to kill endangered species, after all. But he didn’t truly shine until he moved on up from environmentally conscious California, where the worst policies don’t even get legislative consideration, to the federal level.
His of supporting the oil industry is spotless. He opposes cap and trade, supports ANWR drilling, fracking, pipelines, offshore drilling, and deep water drilling. He was one of the voices encouraging deep water drilling just months after the environmental disaster of Deepwater Horizon. He’s even voted for more obscure ways to help Big Oil make money, like lease squatting on federal lands and allowing oil cartels immunity from anti-trust lawsuits. That one was particularly amazing considering it passed 345-72. Most Republicans were to his left on that one. It will come as no surprise, then, that he takes roughly $100,000 every campaign cycle from the industry, the 39th highest for any member of the House, and the second highest for a Democrat, behind only our old friend Henry Cuellar.
He sticks up for the energy industry in other ways of course. Mine Safety regulations to prevent another tragedy like the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster? Who needs them? Should the government be allowed to regulate greenhouse gasses? Of course not, let ‘em flow. Air and water quality standards can be loosened, right? We don’t really need to worry about coal ash. You get the picture. The League of Conservation Voters awards him a 49% lifetime legislative score, making him one of three Democrats to vote against the environment more than with it. The other two are Collin Peterson and Henry Cuellar. As I’m sure you’ve heard repeatedly from me and Nick, those guys don’t count. They are the worst at everything and being better than them is not an accomplishment. (And we do leave Peterson alone because he’s in a 62-31 Trump district, but oh does he test us)
As previously mentioned, Costa is a Big Ag mouthpiece. There are certainly worse industries to be in thrall to, but his constant support of bills that have no rationale besides profits get tiresome quickly. Farm pollutant deregulation is obvious of course, but how about voting in favor of horse slaughter or going along with a ski industry push to get out of paying their water rights dues because it would do the same for Central Valley farming conglomerates? Agribusiness is Costa’s biggest funding source. In 2018 they paid him $492,000, over a quarter of his total for the cycle. That’s the sixth most for any member of the house, and second for Democrats, behind Peterson this time, not Cuellar. That’s not cheap, and if you look at Costa’s Congressional record you can see how he’s been spending his time. Who else can say that 29% of the bills they’ve written have been getting rid of the duty on a pesticide?
I feel like at this point you get it. Mentioning how he undermined the ACA, keeps supporting the Patriot Act, voted for Bush’s border fence, was one of only three Democrats to get an F from the NAACP in 2018, all of that sort of melds together in a slurry of disappointing votes from a disappointing representative. If you want a sharper picture of his foreign policy, he was one of the five Democrats who voted to keep funding the Saudi war in Yemen. So I want to address the potential defense of Costa: that he’s a moderate in a swing district. After all, didn’t he only win by 1.4% in 2014?
To that I have a simple response. No. No, Jim Costa is not in anything approaching a swing district and despite that he nearly managed to lose anyway through his own incompetence. CA-16 is an Obama+19, Clinton+22 district. In 2014, when he was somehow close to losing, Jerry Brown was carrying CA-16 54.4-45.6. Costa’s opponent was a total nobody who raised $320,000 that cycle and was producing amateur hour ads like this. The DCCC, notoriously skittish about re-electing its incumbents, couldn’t even be bothered to pretend they thought the race was losable in 2016, after Costa had nearly managed to fuck it up anyway. Can we afford to lose Costa? I’ll go a step further and say nominating someone else would be an electoral improvement.